Wednesday, September 26, 2012

All in This Together

In the wake of a tough period for Mitt Romney, various Republican candidates for a number of offices are suddenly finding themselves in increased danger.  Consider the Senate.

In Wisconsin, former governor Tommy Thompson seemed to have a strong advantage.  Now, many analysts rate this race---which could have been a straightforward pick-up---as a toss-up.  George Allen is struggling against Tim Kaine in Virginia for another seat held by a retiring Democrat (Jim Webb).  Missouri, which should have been an easy pick-up, now has edged closer into the Democratic column due to some of Todd Akin's statements (gaffes sometimes do matter a lot).

Republican Senate incumbents have also faced a troubling wave of polling.  In Massachusetts, Scott Brown's edge against Elizabeth Warren has slipped a little.  Nevada's Dean Heller's significant polling lead has now slipped to a point or two; a Rasmussen survey in July found him leading by nine points, but a more recent Rasmussen survey has him down to one point.

At the beginning of the year, when President Obama was viewed as being more vulnerable, Republicans had a better-than-even shot of taking the Senate.  Now, RealClearPolitics finds only 43 Republican "safe" or lean Senate seats with 9 toss-ups.  So Republicans would have to win at least 7 of 9 toss-ups in order to have a chance of taking the Senate (and that's only if Romney wins in the general).  The House tells a somewhat similar story.  Obviously, Republicans have a much better chance of holding the House than they do of taking the Senate.  But, as Bill Kristol notes, some recent polls have shown Democrats with a lead on the generic ballot (even Rasmussen's generic ballot polling gives Republicans a thin one-point lead).  Such a polling lead does not always translate to a majority in the House, but it does suggest possible dangers for the Republican majority.

The upshot of all of this is that Congressional Republicans might have a hard time decoupling their fates from that of Mitt Romney.  As Romney has slipped in the general election season, various candidates have also seen an increase in the weights holding down their electoral hopes.

Salon's Steve Kornacki and others have highlighted the following danger for Romney: that Beltway Republicans and other activists will view him as a lost cause, thereby jumping ship to focus on statewide and local races.  Kornacki reminds us that such an Operation Overboard occurred during Bob Dole's 1996 campaign against Bill Clinton.  At least a couple factors would suggest that this kind of abandonment would be unlikely to occur this time.  Romney is in a much stronger position against Obama than Dole was against Clinton, and Clinton had more bright spots to his record than the current president.

With things as close as they are on the presidential level, it would likely be counterproductive for various activist groups to turn their backs on Romney to focus on statewide races.  The weaker Romney seems on the top of the ticket, the more hurdles down-ticket candidates are likely to face.  Or, the stronger Romney is, the stronger many other Republican candidates will likely be.

So many Republicans are in the same electoral boat this year. Abandoning ship could simply leave Congressional candidates thrashing in the water, further from their electoral destinations than ever, as the waves slowly send them backwards.

The good news for Republicans is that the presidential race is still very winnable.  The Romney campaign's renewed focus on economic restoration---one edging toward offering economic solutions---could change the electoral dynamic in Romney's favor.  An affirmative, realistic plan for growth and renewal could become a vessel to carry Romney and other Republicans to the shore of victory.

(I acknowledge that many conservatives have expressed some skepticism about recent polling, but even polls put out by conservative-leaning organizations do not show a substantial lead for Romney---or even a lead at all.  The most recent FOX News poll had Obama up by 5.   Polling is not an exact science, so there are very likely errors in these polls.  But Republicans should not fool themselves: this will be a hard-fought campaign over the next few weeks.)

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